My husband spent a good chunk of his childhood growing up in the South. As a result, jambalaya, gumbo, hoppin’ john, and really just Cajun and Creole flavors in general, hold a special place in his heart. His mother, my sweet mother-in-law, is an EXCELLENT cook. These southern flavors and dishes she mastered at this time remained family favorites long after they moved.
Creating the Perfect Vegan Jambalaya
I decided it was about time I create a vegan jambalaya—one of my husband’s particular favorites—to carry on the tradition started by his mother during his time growing up in the South. (And if you’re a fan of southern comfort food, check out my Dottie’s Vegan Hush Puppies and Satchmo’s Vegan Red Beans and Rice recipes!
My only experience with Louisiana flavors has been an amazing Cajun restaurant in Santa Barbara, not too far from where we live, called The Palace.
Side note: If you are ever in Santa Barbara, GO to The Palace !!!! Gorge on muffins before the meal, have a vegetarian pasta dish (or not; my friends and family say the meat dishes are spectacular), and save room for a bread pudding soufflé!) Don’t forget to make a reservation if you are going for dinner. Also, I am told The Palace was a favorite of President Reagan’s after he retired in the Santa Inez Mountains, the mountain range behind lovely Santa Barbara.
With this limited experience, I had some research to do before creating my vegan jambalaya! I found out some really interesting things:
Some Jambalaya Facts!
- Cajun vs Creole jambalaya—there is a difference! To put it simply, Creole jambalaya has a tomato base, whereas Cajun has more of a meat base. I love tomatoes, and thought the Creole method of jambalaya would lend itself better to vegetarian cooking, so Creole it was! The history geek in me also found this fascinating, Creole jambalaya roots basically come from the Spaniards attempting to recreate the paella dish of their homeland during the Spanish rule of Louisiana.
- Fresh herbs! Use them! Of course, if you can’t find fresh oregano or thyme, use dried, but if you have access to fresh herbs, it is soooooo worth the extra time it takes to wash and mince them!
- Gumbo vs. Jambalaya: Gumbo is more of a stew, whereas jambalaya is more of a rice dish. Generally speaking, gumbo is the dish that uses a roux as a way to thicken the stew, jambalaya recipes usually don’t use a roux. I wanted to make jambalaya, not gumbo, but I also wanted to use a roux! The idea of using a roux to make the rice creamier and the veggies more luscious really appealed to me. May not be very traditional, but my jambalaya calls for a roux (:
My Vegan Jambabya Tips
- Careful with the roux! According to my research, roux is (unaffectionately) nicknamed “Cajun napalm” in the South, and cooking roux can be a dangerous process if your pot is not deep, and you are not careful with your mixing. You don’t want this hot oil and flour mixture hitting you in the face! Luckily, I don’t speak from experience and I hope you won’t ever have to either.
- Steaming at the end. Some jambalayas are steamed for a few minutes after cooking, and I think that is an excellent way to help flavors mesh together. I finish off my jambalaya by steaming it covered, off the heat, and think it takes the flavors and texture up a notch.
- I break a lot of traditions here, sorry. Apart from the roux-base being untraditional, and making the dish vegetarian, I also added a few less traditional herbs, namely cilantro. I love the way cilantro meshes here, and think it adds a lovely flavor profile (not to mention it is one of the more affordable herbs, at least in the places I have lived), but if you are not a cilantro fan, feel free to leave it out. But of course, I recommend giving it a shot!
And a quick note on the tofu ham: Wow! I am over the moon about this tofu ham. Using baked tofu as the base really helps the texture become more ham-like because so much of the water has already been baked out of the tofu. As a result, the outside gets crispier faster, and the flavors we add to the tofu stick more and become more prominent.
Ok, thanks for sticking with me, here is my recipe for roux-based vegan jambalaya!
For the roux:
- ¼ cup flour
- ¼ cup canola or vegetable oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, cored and chopped
- 6 celery stocks, chopped (the standard, half-moon way)
- 14 oz can small dice tomatoes, with juices
- 2 tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp cayenne
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp fresh thyme
- 1 tsp fresh oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- ¼ cup parsley
- ¼ cup cilantro
- ¼ cup scallions
- 2 cups white basmati rice, rinsed
- 4 cups vegetable broth, or water or a mix of both
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp Earth Balance, or olive oil
- 3 links veggie sausage, cut into coins or half-moons (I used Trader Joe’s Italian sausage because it was the cheapest! The Italian spices were not over powering, so if you can’t find something plain or more traditional, don’t worry!)
For the tofu ham:
- 7 oz baked tofu, (I used 2 blocks of Trader Joe’s teriyaki baked tofu. Yes, teriyaki! Don’t worry if the baked tofu you find has a slight marinade, the flavors we put in will completely overpower!)
- 3-4 tsp Frank’s Louisiana hot sauce
- ½ tsp liquid smoke
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp Bragg’s Aminos
- First, chop all of your veggies and herbs. This will make things so much easier when timing is important down the line, because you can just dump your ingredients in. Have your butter measured out and ready to go, and your rice measured out and rinsed.
- Now chop up your sausage—I did mine in half moons—and basically dice up your baked tofu. You want your tofu to be the size of really small cubed ham. Set the tofu aside for later, and fry the sausage in a few Tbsp of oil until it is lightly browned on each side. Set the fried sausage aside.
- Now to the roux. Pour the canola oil and sprinkle the four into the bottom of a large, deep pot or dutch oven. Have your diced onion, garlic, bell peppers, celery, and butter handy. Turn the heat to medium-high and begin stirring the oil and flour together. You won’t stop stirring now until your roux is done! As you stir, the oil and flour will come together and lose all lumpy-ness. The roux will go from looking like white paste, to bubbly white stuff, and then it will begin to brown. Keep stirring. You are doing it right unless it begins to smell burnt and black flecks appear. If you begin to smell burn, you can still save it! Turn down the heat to medium and keep stirring until the roux gets to a golden brown color.
- After about 3-5 minutes, your roux will turn a golden brown color. It is done! Now we move fast! Turn the heat down to medium and toss in your diced onion, garlic, celery, and both bell peppers. Mix everything together so that the roux coats all your veggies. Once this happens, throw in the 2 Tbsp butter and 1 tsp sea salt. Mix again until the butter melts and coats everything.
- Let the veggies cook on medium heat (turn down the heat a bit if things are sticking to the bottom of the pan too much) for 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent and the peppers have softened a bit, but still have a bit of their crisp, rawness.
- Now add the thyme and oregano. Mix everything together so the herbs are evenly distributed. Cook for another minute or two, then add the vegetable broth (or water) and tomatoes. Turn the heat up to medium high. Add the bay leaves, cayenne, black pepper, brown sugar, and second tsp sea salt. Stir everything a few times, then bring the whole pot to a boil.
- Once boiling, add the rice. Give it a good mix, then once again, wait for the pot to come to a boil. Once it is boiling, turn the heat down to low and cover, with the lid slightly ajar. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Now back to the small cubed tofu! In the same pan you fried your sausage in (but now your sausage is not in the pan!), add another Tbsp of oil and over medium –high heat, add the tofu. Cook for about five minutes. The tofu will sizzle and start to darken. Now add the Frank’s hot sauce, liquid smoke, brown sugar, sea salt, and aminos. Mix everything together and let it continue to sizzle away for 10 minutes, mixing every so often. Play with the heat a bit here. If medium high is too hot and the tofu is burning, turn down to medium. If medium is not high enough and the tofu is not browning and getting crispier, turn up the heat to medium-high. After ten minutes, your tofu ham is done!
- And your rice has finished its 15 minutes of simmering too! Remove the lid from the pot and stir the jambalaya a few times, helping to release any rice that may be sticking to the bottom of the pan. Then add your veggie sausage and tofu ham. Mix a few times so that they are well incorporated, put the lid back on the pot, and cook your jambalaya for five more minutes.
- After five minutes, take the jambalaya off the heat, remove the lid, and add the parsley, cilantro, scallions, and lemon juice. Stir everything together, then cover the pot once more and (remember, off the heat!) let everything steam together for five minutes. You did it!!!!! Now uncover and serve your masterpiece (:
Amazing! Time intensive but so worth it.